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Interview

MAKING A WEB SERIES – AN INTERVIEW WITH CREATOR MACK STRUTHERS

Mack Struthers is a Brisbane based writer and director in his second year at QUT. Recently, he premiered his web series, Greenlit, at cinemas in Brisbane and Sydney. Mack has spent over a year working tirelessly on this series – writing, organising and funding this show. Read on for more.

Mack on set

Can you just introduce yourself and your roles in film?

“My name is Mack. I have been making films since I saw Interstellar and thought the soundtrack would go really well with some Lego stop motion. I primarily write and direct. As a young creative, I do all the other things so that I can write and direct more. “

What is Greenlit?

“Greenlit is a 6-episode comedy web series created by me and shot in January this year. It follows a team of writers trying to get their series off the ground into production. Over the course of a year, we have been making this series. I think a total of 50 people have been involved.”

What has been the biggest challenge as the creator?

Green Lit

“Being a good leader. I think there is a misconception that directing or creating what you want. I think there is better value in learning to bring the best out of people.”

How did you go about funding a web series?

“We had two primary sources of funding. Bonds’ reach out grant and a QUT grant. Myself and four other people decided we need money for this project and started researching underutilised grants. A lot of organisations want a tax write off for supporting the arts and will only get a couple hundred applications for these grants. If you apply to as much as you can, it is likely you will be able to get some money together.”

 What was the biggest thing you learnt from making Greenlit?

“It’s a marathon not a sprint. Realistically, me and 4 others worked every day on this show for at least an hour and sometimes up till 12 hours for a year. Finding the thing that can keep you going and going for a long time is of utmost importance. Another thing I learnt is compromise. Filmmaking is collaborative and restrictive. You will get your best work when you start compromising.”

The core cast of Greenlit

TALKING MOVIES

Do you have a favourite film, writer/ director and show?

“Synecdoche New York or Before Sunrise. Director is Andrei Tarkovsky and Dennis Villeunve. The show is a tie between Bojack Horseman and Mr Robot.

Ruby Shannon and Mack on Set

What writers, films and filmmakers inspired Greenlit and you in general?

“The Office, Community and a little bit of Mr Robot in terms of style. Avengers Endgame was also such a fun point of reference because all the tropes are so stupid and cheesy and fun.

Most annoying thing people do in the cinema?

“All the classic ones, being on your phone, talking. But I think the most annoying thing is when people nearby me are trying to be funny. If you are sitting on the couch at home, you can make jokes then.”

“When I saw the new Doctor Strange movie, there was this guy in the line who wouldn’t stop talking to me. During the movie, he was talking to me THE WHOLE MOVIE.”

The Future

MAck on set with Madelyn Leite

Where do you want to see the Brisbane and Australian film scene move in the next 5 years?

“I think people forget that what protects the film community the most is legislation. The Australian Writers Guild have been in battle to get all the streaming platforms to invest a percentage of what they make into Australian only content. In my ideal world, some of those things get passed and we stop having Marvel films exclusively and English TV cause the land is cheap. We start getting new Australian content.”

What is next for you?

“I am doing some corporate work which is always interesting… I will try to do a grad slate for QUT. I am currently planning on doing two web series. One will be a play that my friends are doing at the fringe Festival called Call Girls. And I am also not prepared to walk away from Greenlit.”

If a film genie came to you, and gave you one wish, what would it be?

“I think it would be this series I have been writing for over a year now. It is called Come Apart and it’s not a comedy but kind of experimental drama.”

Go watch Greenlit on Youtube right now!!!

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Interview

A Conversation with Writer and Director Michael Shanks

If you are talking sports, Michael Shanks is like a number one draft pick for the Australian Film scene. He is the writer and director of Time Trap, Rebooted and Wizards of Aus, has a YouTube channel with over 200k subscribers and his script – Hotel, Hotel, Hotel, Hotel – recently was selected for the BlackList (that’s a big deal). In the next 5 years, anyone interested in film will know his name (if you don’t already).

Guy Pearce and Michael Shanks on set of Storm Music Video

I was lucky enough to interview Michael last week. It is undoubtedly, one of the most motivating film conversations I have ever had. His commitment to the craft over the years has made me ready to work harder and excited for the future of Australian films. Read on for more.

INTRODUCTIONS

EXT. ZOOM – DAY

FRAZIER: So! Before we go into the proper filmmaking stuff, I just want to talk about the something stupid video with Nicole Kidman that you made…

MICHAEL: Oh God.  That’s definitely a blast from the past…

FRAZIER: Well when I was 14 there was this big deal with ‘try not to laugh’ challenges and your video was in it. My friends and I had some type of forfeit that if you laughed you would have to get slapped. So your video would always make us crack up.    

Is there any small part of you that wants to give up the filmmaking career and return to these types of videos?

MICHAEL: If it gets people slapped then I am happy about it. But no not really. Kind of the opposite. I have always wanted to make the next thing bigger then the last. But that video is like the first thing I ever did that got any attention.

FRAZIER: Well I didn’t know you even made it until like two months ago.

MICHAEL: “I used to get slapped because of it!”

Winning Flickerfest for Rebooted

THE PROCESS

FRAZIER: You started off with the Doomsday Arcade series for the Escapist Magazine, if I’m not mistaken?

MICHAEL: The first thing I made was a pilot for a web series when I was in year 12. I made it for a competition and won. The prize was that your entry was part of a 25-part series that you were paid to make. That was kind of how I jumped into filmmaking.

FRAZIER: Well I watched it the other day.

MICHAEL: Oh God…

FRAZIER: It has got some funny jokes and I was genuinely laughing. It’s got this kind of referential/ parody humour that is woven throughout everything you do. Is that where it started or have you always loved that style of writing.

MICHAEL: I was always into that stuff like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Spike Milligan’s Books and Monty Python. I always loved genre parody. But moving back to the show, I kind of used it to be able to jump into different genres that I loved.

FRAZIER: So after this show you didn’t go to film school?

MICHAEL: No, I think of Doomsday Arcade as my film school. Almost two years of straight shooting, writing and editing.

FRAZIER: I recently dropped out and I was thinking, did you have a period of people constantly telling you to go to film school or any self-doubt? Or did you know this was the path you wanted to take?

MICHAEL: Well since I had it as a job and had to do it, it gave me the confidence to just keep going. I know it sounds pretentious, but I think the best film school was watching films. When I started moving onto proper sets, I didn’t really know what second AC was… but that’s fine! You get told on the day and you work it out.

The short that launched Michael’s career.

FRAZIER: Following this, you had Time Trap released after the success of the George Lucas special edition trailer and that short film was only made with a budget of 6k?

MICHAEL: Yeah so that was just self-funded. It was 6k with people lending their time and borrowing a camera and just making it happen. And it was a huge amount of time – months of visual effects and composing. I then had this huge amount of traffic coming to my channel from this Star Wars parody I made. I just released the short film on that same day and it really caught fire. It got a lot of eyeballs on it, especially in LA. It was actually how I got my US reps because the short film went around Los Angeles. I was out there a few weeks later interviewing managers and agents.

Time Trap

FRAZIER: When this crazy period was happening what was your mindset like at the time?

MICHAEL: It was very exciting but I was weirdly hamstrung cause I just had signed onto do the web series the Wizards of Aus. I had these reps saying these are things we could go for but I had to go and spend 45 weeks making this web show.

FRAZIER: So with the Wizards of Aus, I saw something you said that you moved back into your Mum’s house for 36 weeks to edit the VFX straight?

MICHAEL: Yeah…

FRAZIER: How do you do that and maintain motivation because I would be drained?

Michael on set of Wizards of Aus

MICHAEL: I do get pretty fixated on things… It’s really satisfying work as a day job. I find it akin to playing a puzzle video game. You have these certain tools to get from point A to point B. I am also just one of those people who is content to just sit in a chair for hours.

FRAZIER: When you are on set and working with comic actors like Aunty Donna, Nick Cody and Guy Pearce, do you like improvising?

MICHAEL: It was a mixture of both. Me and a guy called Nick Issel wrote the show. But when you have guys like Aunty Donna doing funnier stuff it’s pretty sweet. I love the idea of improv but sometimes you can tell they are just improving the whole thing and it feels kind of loose.

FRAZIER: Now onto Rebooted, a short film I have shown my friends and family like 20 times. I understand the budget was only $120,000. But if the budget was bigger, do you think it would have changed the film that much?

Rebooted Short Film

MICHAEL: I think probably not. It would have made some quality-of-life stuff easier like bigger offices and larger studios. The only thing that would be different was that because it is a mixture of genuine stop motion and live action, we weren’t able to move the camera in specific three-dimensional ways. If we had a bigger budget we would have been able to do motion control shots. But other than that, it turned out exactly how I wanted it.

FRAZIER: Now just onto your directing style. I have seen a lot of videos where you say you storyboard everything to a tee, is this linked with your love for visual storytelling?

MICHAEL: I just think it would be really hard to come up with that stuff on the day. By really storyboarding everything, I found more cohesion across everything I am trying to do. It’s just a way of me feeling like I have the shot exactly in my head.

Michael on set

FRAZIER: I saw on your Instagram that your script got selected for the Blacklist. Can you just talk about your process in writing an already successful script?

MICHAEL: I am not one of those people who writes a million ideas. I just want to make sure the idea is super unique. But once I have that 3 act structure, I will typically go away and find some AirBnb for like a week and beat out a draft. But I am really slow at editing. For me it’s just really premise heavy, once I find a sweet idea then that’s it.

TALKING MOVIES

FRAZIER: I know that the Lord of the Rings BTS, the Simpsons and Edgar Wright were big inspirations but was there any other films or creators that helped you?

MICHAEL: Definitely all of them. But for the last few years I have really been mainlining horror. Recently, I watched Incancation (2022). I was loving it but my girlfriend can’t watch scary movies. She had come out and I was at the end of the movie, watching it through the menu on the third of the screen that’s how scary it was. Horror films just always surprise me. They have a looseness to them and can introduce elements of surrealism without having to build a fantasy realm. Horror films can just be really unique.

Michael on set

FRAZIER: Do you have a current favourite horror director?

MICHAEL: I know these are mainstream choices, but I think Ari Aster is incredible. I think Hereditary is so so so good. It’s the sweet spot for me because it’s unique and I didn’t know where it was going but it was really exciting. Also Jordan Peele. Nope was awesome and I love his ability to make mimetic visuals.

FRAZIER: Now in the opposite direction, what is the most annoying thing people do at the cinema?

MICHAEL: The most annoying experience I had was in Sydney, I was by myself in this small cinema. 30 minutes into the film I hear this foil crinkle and they unwrap two big burritos and it’s just the smelliest food. This old woman several rows in front was looking around smelling… That and obviously just being on your phone.

FRAZIER: The other month I was seeing Doctor Strange 2 and this group of 12-year-old eshays came into the cinema. They were all vaping and all you could see was the vape smoke covering the screen. This guy told the manager and they came in and kicked out the wrong people so we had to get involved and tell the manager who it was… right in the middle of a big set piece.

THE FUTURE

FRAZIER: Where do you want to see the Australian film scene move in the next 5-10 years?

Wizards of Aus

MICHAEL: I think we need to be making movies that people want to see. I think the movies we are making is ‘the whole small town has a secret’, which is fine but we are just making samey films that appeal to middle aged people. I would love to see us take more genre swings. When I tell my girlfriend a movie to watch and say it’s an Australian film she says “oh an Australian film…”

FRAZIER: I have interviewed a few people now and they all say that same thing.

MICHAEL: I am not saying they are bad, I just think they are a little safe. Maybe because a lot of stuff is based on state and government funding.  But it is literally something everyone in the Australian film scene talks about and it never changes so I don’t know what the fuck is up with that.

FRAZIER: I just think doing the Wizards of Aus and Rebooted is the right direction but it’s like why is there not more of that…

MICHAEL: The people I know at Screen Australia are very cool and funny so I just don’t know how it works.

Motion capture…

FRAZIER: My last question… what is next for you?

MICHAEL: I want to always feel like the next thing is bigger and better. With that trajectory, hopefully the next things is bigger. Over the last few years, I have been putting my efforts into writing features for people and hopefully that’s the space I can work in.

Make sure to go and check out all of Michael’s work on Youtube because it is honestly some of the best Australian filmmaking I have seen.

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Videos

Basketball Movies…

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Film Reviews

Three Thousand Years of Longing Review

George Miller is back with his third film in 10 years. Mad Max, Babe, Happy Feet – all critically and financially successful and yet we rarely see his name pop up in the credits. So something big had to be next for Miller. And that ambitious film was none other than Three Thousand Years of Longing. A film so unique and different that it makes complete sense for Miller to direct. But was this film worth his return to directing? Does it live up to the hype of his previous films?

Three Thousand Years of Longing is a romantic / fantasy film written and directed by George Miller. It sees a lonely scholar – Tilda Swinton – who is granted three wishes by a Djinn (Idris Elba).   

Every time you go to the cinemas, you kind of know what you are already going to see. Between trailers and marketing, you have a pretty rough idea of what is coming. I was completely blindsided by this film. Three Thousand Years of Longing shocked me from beginning to end and that is for one core reason – the sound design.

I haven’t seen a movie as precise and careful with its use of music and sound in a long time (probably Mad Max actually). Each scene uses it so sparingly that it makes the audience glued to the world in front of them. Even the transitions between locations use natural sound to make the film flow. But what accentuates this creative choice is the writing.

George Miller and Augusta Gore have replaced music with a script that feels like a song. The dialogue has a perfect rhythm that makes this film flow. You almost forget the lack of music when the words spoken by Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba feel poetic. For a film about storytelling, Miller understands exactly what makes a story work. It is not about the visual elements but instead the spoken word and that is exactly why this narration works so well. And while these effects were striking, they were not what made me love this film. Instead, it was the movies core theme.

The emphasis on the importance of storytelling to humanity is a perfect golden thread and something that means a lot to me. Three Thousand Years of Longing not only reminds the audience on why we need stories to survive but also the different forms they can take. It accomplishes this through roughly 6 separate stories each more intriguing and different then the last. With different themes and messages, they will leave any audience wanting to spend more time in the mind of George Miller.

Like a song however, the film ebbs and flows. It did have moments where I lost interest and was not completely gripped by the story. I think it comes down to the run time. While an hour and 40 minutes is by no means a long film, I do think it could have been cut down. If this film was 15 minutes shorter, the pacing would have been fantastic. When so much time is spent in one location, it is pivotal that the audience is still hooked by the story and especially the actors.

(Spoilers)

Now I did like the performances of Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. In fact, I loved them. They both did an excellent job of displaying loneliness and how it affects people in different ways. Also, what stories can mean to people’s lives. Where their performances fell a little flat was in the chemistry. I never felt the love between them. While they bounce off each other well, the sudden turn in the story didn’t make sense for these characters. It felt like a sharp right turn in a direction I didn’t think these George Miller and these actors were going for.

Should you see this film?

Yes absolutely. It is a movie that will sit with you for days on end. Not only is it a completely original story but it is the craft of it that will keep you hooked. However, I do recommend going in expecting a slower pace and a different method to most Hollywood movies.

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Interview

A new kind of rom com – An Interview with writer/ director Seth Griffiths-Kemp

Seth Griffiths-Kemp is a writer and director based in Brisbane. He is currently finishing his third year at Griffith Film School where he is working tirelessly on his grad slate film – Schrodingers. After talking with Seth for a while, it made me so excited to see this film. The concept is so unique and refreshing that I cannot wait to see how he puts it all together. Read on for more.

Seth on set

What is Schrodingers about?

Schrodingers is about an incompatible couple – Rosie and Roland – who match on a dating app. They go on a date, and it is not what they hoped it would be. Before they call it quits, they come across this bar called Schrodigners and they decide to have one final drink. Little do they know; each drink shows them visions of the future…”

Poster

How did this idea come to you?

“In came to me last September. I kind of delved into this world of the bar and what if you could see your future with a drink. It feels like a trope of so many rom coms where they share a montage together of their perfect future. So I thought what if that’s tangible and if it’s something that neither character wants.”

Davis Dingle and Brigitte Freeme on set

“When I came to Callum Styles (my producer) we really interrogated this idea and it spiralled into all these different things like the existential feelings young people have, struggles with connection, gamification of dating. All these ideas just blossomed once we dived into these characters.

How did directing and writing a web series (Ain’t it Fun) help you with this film?

“Taylor Ring came to me with this incredible idea and I was immediately on board. We were lucky enough to be greenlit and the moment we were greenlit, we bought like 30-40 other people on board. The most important lesson I learned was the value of collaboration and how important that is. The writers’ room filled with so many different ideas we weren’t even considering. It all created this great cohesion and collaboration. Being open to scrutiny allows you to get to the best possible point of your idea.”

During shooting, what was the biggest challenge to overcome?

Seth, Davis and Brigitte on Set

“Practically, it was the stuff out of control. Whether that was actors or crew not being available or the weather, because we got rained out on the first day… All that stuff is really challenging, and you just got to suck it up and find a solution.”

“After that, it was how taxing it was mentally and emotionally. I hit my low point at least 5 times this year. I just realised I had to power through my inner critic regardless of if I’m satisfied.”

What is the biggest challenge of making an indie short film?

“The financing wasn’t the biggest challenge, but it was taxing on the wallet. It was a constant stream that was going into this. Location cost, outside equipment and catering…”

So far, what has been the most rewarding part of Schrodingers?

Noff Baras on set

It has been seeing these lines of dialogue and images in my head brought to life. The chills when everything is done and set up is really affecting. Especially when it’s something where people are like you can’t do this. Proving people wrong is one of my favourite feelings in the world. We have our VFX artist (Lachie Margetts) and he sent me some edits he did last night and it blew my mind. I am just so excited for people to see those moments and the talent behind this.”

Talking Movies

Favourite writer, director, show and movie?

“I feel like the favourite movie question is death sentence to any film person. I will say that my favourite creative is Donald Glover. He is someone I look up to who is this renaissance man. Going off that, my favourite TV Show now is Atlanta. Season 3 was just ridiculous.

Seth and Davis on set

What films, directors and creatives inspired Schrodingers?

Definitely La La Land. It is just such a comfort movie for me. Also, 500 Days of Summer. Those very classic rom coms with a twist. But the biggest inspiration came out after we finished writing – Everything Everywhere All at Once.

The Future

What is next for you?

“Honestly, I am just happy to go with the flow on a lot of things. I have got a bunch of things. I want to write again and do a music video soon.”

Where do you want to see the Brisbane film scene move in the next 5 years?

“I am hopeful because all the Griffith Grad slate films are so unique. If the Australian film scene is going to be as creative, risky and diverse as these 11 projects then we are going to be in good hands. For the Australian environment, just more risk. I feel like when I see an Australian film I always know it’s an Australian film. The people who are coming up now I think are going to break that mould and make it more about the stories and less about the environment.”

The crew of Schrodingers

If a genie came to you with one film wish, what would it be?

“They would all be adaptations of things. I would love to see a good take on Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction. Also, there’s this one novel called State Highway One. I would love to see that made because it’s set in New Zealand as well. And just a Nightwing Movie…”

Make sure to follow Seth’s career as he moves into the film scene and especially Schrodinger’s at festivals near you.

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Short Films

ESSENTIAL WORKERS – COVID MOCKUMENTARY SHORT FILM

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Interview

PAUSE – A Conversation with Writer and Director Jacquelynn Auger

A little over a year ago, I went to the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival held in Winton. All the films were genuinely solid, but one really stood out – PAUSE. Written and directed by Jacquelyn Auger, the short film was incredible. It felt so real and authentic I almost forgot I was watching an indie film. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to do an interview with Jacquie and after finally calling her on zoom, I am glad I did. I learnt so much more about the challenges of women in the industry, what Jacquie has faced and a new perception on commercial success. Read on for more.

EXT. BRISBANE – ZOOM – Day

INTRODUCTIONS.

FRAZIER: So can you just kind of introduce yourself and your role in film?

Jacquie on set

JACQUIE: My name is JACQUELYNN AUGER. I am 22. I finished my degree in 2020. Since then, I have gone on to write and direct. I am now working as a video editor. But writing and directing is my passion.

PAUSE

FRAZIER: Now just moving into PAUSE. Just a rough log line for what it is and what’s it about?

JACQUIE: Rosie comes home from leaving a small town – Winton. She returns for her grandma’s funeral after being away for three years and ghosting her past lover – Jamie. It’s just a love story, plain and simple.

FRAZIER: So how long has this idea been bouncing around in your head for?

JACQUIE: The previous year I went out to Winton as part of the Alumni trip to Winton before the students went out. It started off as a comedy about Romeo and Juliet in the Outback with two opposing pubs. It just wasn’t going anywhere, no one was taking reigns on writing it. I just stemmed it off that because the comedy wasn’t really working.

JACQUIE: I just had a lot of inspiration from past relationships. My community, being a queer person, especially a female/female presenting peoples, we don’t really see ourselves represented properly. Our love stories are usually very sexualised for the male gaze or straight gaze.

FRAZIER: So when did pre-production actually start?

Bridget Webb and Jina Venice

JACQUIE: We went out (to Winton) in September 2020 and we filmed two things, came back started writing it and then went back in June in 2021. So it was like 6 months of pre-production. It was meant to be that everyone who was on the previous film was meant to go onto the next thing, but no one really stuck around. I then brought Kate Boylan-Ascione on board who is an amazing producer. And then she believed in the idea and Ash Burgess also believed in it and it kind of kicked off.

FRAZIER: So how long did it take you to write from beginning to end?

JACQUIE: It took a lot of rewrites… Just because I wanted to make it as authentic as I could. There was a lot of stress about not letting it be a film that doesn’t represent my community properly. I just wanted young queer people to look at this film and think “this is what it is actually like.” A lot of it came from talking with my actresses. I wanted to cast queer actresses.

JACQUIE: When we finished wrapping PAUSE, I didn’t care about the product anymore. What it did for other people and the crew was incredible. I made it so that every person could say a suggestion, I just wanted everyone to walk away being like “there’s a piece of me in it.”

FRAZIER: So your goal was bigger than film festivals? More about the emotion behind the shooting and story?

JACQUIE: Yeah I just wanted to make my community proud and speak to people who haven’t been represented properly.

PAUSE Crew

FRAZIER: When you are writing – cause some people find it challenging and some find it really easy – do you find yourself getting distracted or are you locked in from the beginning?

JACQUIE: When I have an idea, I can sit there for hours and flesh it out. Through Uni and High School, I have found writing scripts quite easy.

FRAZIER: So when you were making it, what was the most challenging part of making an indie short? Whether that be financing, organising, writing, etc.

JACQUIE: I think the hardest part was believing in myself. My last production before that was the Chocolate Bar. It didn’t exceed my expectation of myself. I went into a pretty shit self-loathing hole from that. I didn’t think I was cut out for writing it. Also, my goal of representing my community was a big “holy fuck.”

THE INDUSTRY

JACQUIE: I think the best part of the whole thing was choosing my crew. For the subject off what we were doing, I wanted to provide female identifying people to do it. Majority of our crew were female which is awesome. It’s just hard being a woman in film…

FRAZEIR: Do you want to go into that a bit more or just leave it?

JACQUIE: Me working in the industry, I just felt uncomfortable. There’s a lot of older crews that work on film sets. You kind of get caught between “should I say something to stand up for myself or am I going to ruin my chances of making it.” I feel like we are constantly in that battle being women on set. Surely, it’s getting better, but that’s why I have been discouraged to go down the industry path because I didn’t really have the best experience the first time around.

FRAZIER: Do you have any plans to go back to the industry later?

JACQUIE: If it leads me there then definitely. Since I have this job, it is nice having an income especially coming out of an arts degree. At Film school, they never really talk about commercial work as a success. When I was at film school – it could’ve changed – it just felt like there was only one way to get to success. I just don’t think it’s selling our or giving up doing this kind of work.

FRAZIER: That is so true looking back on it. I only did a year… but it was never about commercial work.

TALKING MOVIES

FRAZIER: I always ask this question, so it must be done. Who is your favourite director and what is your favourite show and movie?

JACQUIE: I don’t have a favourite director… My favourite sitcom is How I Met your mother and New Girl. My favourite movie is Rocky Horror Picture Show. Honourable mentions are Normal People…

FRAZIER: Yeah, I love normal people, just rewatched it again.

JACQUIE: Oh and Fleabag.

FRAZIER: Of course, of course.

THE FUTURE

FRAZIER: This one is hard, and I always give people a while to think about it, but where do you want to see the Brisbane film scene move in the next five years.

JACQUIE: Wow

FRAZIER: Yep ahaha

JACQUIE:  In Brisbane and Australia, I want to see more high production Australian stories to be told. I feel like there is a lot of overseas productions coming over and using our beautiful landscapes. We just need more Australian stories.

FRAZIER: Another hard one, but what is next for you?

JACQUIE: I got this editing job at the moment. I remember talking to Ash about how really good writers and directors are also really good editors. I definitely want to get back to writing and directing again. I want to create content. Maybe a music video.

FRAZIER: Just my last question, if someone came to you and they were like you can make your dream project to make or person to work with, what or who would it be?

JACQUIE: Oh my good… I think it would be the next sitcom. I would love love love to write the next big comedy sitcom.

FRAZIER: So like the next Australian sitcom?

JACQUIE: Yeah like Please Like Me. That’s one of my favourite TV shows.

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Article

The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes: The Greatest Film Never Made?

How does one know thyself? When confronted by the realities of our station in life, how do we respond to them? Will we take advantage of what time we have left to fulfil the passions that burn within us?

These questions percolated in my mind as I read Tim Lucas’ novel The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes, a fictionalized account on the making of Roger Corman’s 1967 psychedelic opus The Trip – which first appeared in cinemas on this day 55 years ago.

Cover art by Charlie Largent.

The Subject

Cinemaverick: Corman in his element during the making of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967).

By the mid-1960s, Roger Corman, a top-tier producer/director for B-movie studio American International Pictures (AIP), had become dissatisfied by the constraints of his series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price. Endeavouring to make films that reflected the controversies of the times, his first attempt at such a movie, The Wild Angels (1966) – a biker drama starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, and Bruce Dern – was a major box office success. For its follow-up, Corman turned his attention to a particularly hot-button subject: lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or acid.

Japanese poster for The Trip.

Directed from a screenplay by a long-time member of Corman’s talent pool, Jack Nicholson – better known today for playing a certain Clown Prince of Crime! – the resulting film, The Trip, follows disillusioned commercial director Paul Groves (Fonda) as he seeks to gain personal insight through an LSD trip: the first of its kind depicted in a motion picture. Guided by his guru friends John (Dern) and Max (Dennis Hopper), Paul witnesses a parade of sensual and terrifying imagery throughout his hallucinogenic odyssey that forces him to consider his place in the world, and especially his relationships with women; he is torn by his feelings for his wife Sally (Susan Strasberg), who he is soon to be divorced from, and Glenn (Salli Sachse), an acquaintance of Max’s with whom he feels a mutual attraction.

Alternately confounding, nauseating, sexy and funny, The Trip remains a thoroughly engrossing watch, marked by its rapid editing and depictions of nudity, both of which were considered ground-breaking for the time. Although its style and subject matter reflect key interests of the hippie movement (LSD was made illegal across the United States soon after its release, and the film’s portrayal of it prompted the British Board of Film Censors to ban the movie for 35 years), the film’s thematic underpinnings still carry weight decades after the Summer of Love. As someone who doesn’t have any experience with such drugs, I was pleased that the film wasn’t an excuse for flashy imagery, and that it grounded the psychedelic experience in human drama through its focus on whether Paul can form personal connections amidst the emotional turmoil of a divorce. Among those The Trip impressed upon its initial release was a young film buff from Cincinnati named Tim Lucas…

The Author

Lucas with his legendary tome Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. To say this guy knows his movies is putting it lightly.

A renowned film critic/historian with fifty years of professional writing experience, Lucas is best known for co-publishing (with his wife Donna) the pioneering home media review magazine Video Watchdog (1990-2017), and for writing the celebrated critical biography Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (2007). He has provided audio commentaries on the DVD and Blu-ray releases of over 100 movies, covering not only most of Bava’s films and several of Corman’s, but works by directors as varied as Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone and Orson Welles. Lucas has also penned three published novels: Throat Sprockets (1994), The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula (2005) and The Secret Life of Love Songs (2021). A throughline that connects Lucas’ work is his focus on our capacity for experiencing and expressing love for each other. This is an appropriate motif, given the themes of Corman’s film and the story he has weaved about its creation.

In 2003, Lucas began writing a comical screenplay about the making of The Trip with his friend, writer/artist Charlie Largent. Their story was structured around Corman’s revelation that, despite not outwardly fitting in with the counterculture of the period, he prepared for the film by undergoing an LSD trip on the beaches of Big Sur, California, surrounded by colleagues who witnessed and recorded his observations.

Bill Hader, Corman and Joe Dante at the 2017 script-reading of The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes.

Although The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes was soon optioned by Corman’s protégé, Gremlins (1985) director Joe Dante, and it is set to be co-produced by SpectreVision (Elijah Wood’s production company), the film has yet to see the light of day. The closest the project has come to being actualized was a 2017 script-reading at the Vista Theater in Los Angeles, billed as “The Greatest Film Never Made”; reviews of the reading unanimously praised Bill Hader’s portrayal of Corman. These aborted attempts to make the movie inspired Lucas to rewrite Kaleidoscope Eyes as a novel, drawing on correspondence with Corman’s wife/producing partner Julie, and his long-time assistant Frances Doel, to expand the story beyond what was in the script, which by this time had undergone several revisions, including contributions from writers Michael Almereyda and James Robison.

Commentary

My personal collection of Lucas’ first three novels.

Lucas’ earlier novels are characterised by their unconventional approach to narrative structure. Primarily written from the first-person point of view of the protagonists, they frequently take unexpected turns into other modes of writing, including transcripts of film scenes and interviews (Throat Sprockets); diary entries, letters and commentaries written by characters years after the referenced events (The Book of Renfield, in the style of Bram Stoker’s Dracula); and songs (The Secret Life of Love Songs).

The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes continues this trend, albeit to a lesser extent than its forebears, by presenting its first four chapters out of chronological order, with chapter titles indicating the month and year in which the events take place: the story begins in November 1966, with Peter being awed by Jack’s script for The Trip, before flashing back five months earlier to Roger in the throes of post-production on The Wild Angels. It diverges from Lucas’ previous works by being his first novel to be largely written in a narratorial third-person style, with its only ventures into first-person occurring in Chapter 11, which chronicles Roger’s trip. As a reading experience, I would describe Kaleidoscope Eyes as Lucas’ most accessible novel, and appropriately his most cinematic.

The picturesque beaches of Big Sur, where Roger partook in his trip, became a major location for The Trip.

As with his earlier books, Lucas demonstrates meticulous attention to detail: his vivid overview of the changing cultural landscape in mid-60s Hollywood in Chapter 2 (which he describes as “the Summer of Foreplay before the Summer of Love”) infuses the location with a sense of excitement, where anything is possible and change is the law of the land. His imagination is on full throttle in his renderings of Roger’s trip, which are appropriately thoughtful yet bizarre. Consider the passage where Roger’s musings over the grains of sand that comprise Big Sur’s beach evolve into the observation that “God was a surfer”.

My personal copy of Reynold Brown’s poster art for X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

Given the setting, comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and its 2021 novelization are inevitable (Lucas has revealed that Tarantino was among the first to read Kaleidoscope Eyes’ script, and quickly voiced his desire to play the role of Roger’s friend, screenwriter Chuck Griffith). Like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which revels in its tributes to classic Hollywood TV shows, movies and Spaghetti Westerns, Kaleidoscope Eyes is full of references to Corman’s other films. These include his civil rights-themed drama The Intruder (1962) – the commercial failure of which makes Roger hesitant to make more “personal” films – and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), the poster art for which helps him devise an on-the-spot pitch for The Trip to his AIP bosses Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson.

Chuck Griffith about to meet his demise at the jaws of Audrey Jr. in The Little Shop of Horrors – a little movie that has left a large legacy.

I also spotted several funny references to The Little Shop of Horrors (1960): when Chuck tries to buy LSD from a dealer at Venice Beach, the dealer promises “Lots plants cheap”, a verbatim reference to a sign on Mushnick the florist’s wall, and Audrey Jr.’s catchphrase “FEED ME!” rears its head during Roger’s trip. The book is also packed with period detail (such as Metrecal, a predecessor to Sustagen that Roger drinks), and references to the music of such artists as Herb Alpert (“Spanish Flea”). As with the call-backs to Roger’s movies, these might throw off a reader unfamiliar with them, but Lucas’ fast pace allows 60s novices to get back on track to the heart of the narrative.

A scene from Corman’s pseudo-Poe film The Terror (1963) – described by Lucas as a “sorry-assed picture” – featuring Jack Nicholson and his then-wife Sandra Knight.

An advantage of the novel’s third-person approach can be seen in Lucas’ fleshing-out of the book’s cast. With a few exceptions, the supporting characters of his other novels tend to be abstract, in part due to the often-egotistical perspectives of the protagonists. Here, most of Roger’s friends and colleagues are clearly-defined, likable creatives who you want to see achieve success. Peter is a wide-eyed dreamer who wants to carve a legacy of his own, rather than simply being “Hank’s boy”. Jack is a hardworking, emotive artist who is frustrated by the bad hand life has dealt him thus far – his divorce from actress Sandra Knight inspires Paul and Sally’s split – but is determined to reward Roger’s friendship and trust.

Lucas gives Frances Doel (pictured in 2011), an overlooked member of Corman’s team, a chance to shine.

Appropriate given her background and Oxford education, Frances is very much the Alfred to Roger’s Batman, a sounding board as much as she is a faithful assistant. Chuck – who recalls Harry Connick Jr.’s portrayal of Dean McCoppin in The Iron Giant (1999) – is a cool beatnik who happily guides Roger through his trip despite his initial 600-page script for The Trip being discarded in favour of Jack’s more streamlined take. Another of Roger’s protégés, Peter Bogdanovich – whose directorial debut Targets (1968) is prominently foreshadowed by Lucas – is a sharp-witted dandy keen to make the leap from critic to filmmaker. In their brief scenes, Bruce and Dennis are intellectual, curious thespians eager to give Roger their best work in their performances as John and Max, and while he does not turn her into a fully-fledged character, Lucas offers a nice appreciation of Salli and her portrayal of Glenn.

The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood share much in common, but both are reflective of their authors.

Whereas Lucas’ previous novels can be described as ranging between melancholic or tragic in tone, Kaleidoscope Eyes is the first to demonstrate his lighter side, imparting a sense of optimism that shines through the darkness. It shares a view with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that, as long as you have friends in your corner and take risks, you can clear the hurdles Hollywood puts in your way.

What about Roger himself? Given the book’s generally light tone and its loving tributes to several celebrated talents, it might have been easy to make him an amiable everyman, a vehicle through which the story unfolds, but Lucas turns the maverick moviemaker into arguably his most complex protagonist yet.

Paul directs a commercial in The Trip. While Corman has admitted that Paul is something of a semi-autobiographical vehicle, Lucas demonstrates they aren’t one and the same.

In his audio commentary for Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Lucas notes that the heroes of many of the director’s films are truth-seekers. This is an attribute that also describes the leads of Lucas’ prior novels, and one which he applies to Roger, whose persona is defined by his incongruities: he has the dress-sense of an old fogey, the mind of a businessman, the heart of an explorer and the soul of an artist. Despite his personal tastes not lining up with those of his younger hippie colleagues, he is determined to accurately portray the psychedelic experience with as much realism as possible in the confines of a low budget, consulting Chuck and Jack about their experiences with LSD and extensively reading the works of such proponents of the drug as Dr. Timothy Leary in preparation for his trip and the film informed by it. Roger’s various faculties come into play in not only how he conducts his work – he views himself as a problem-solver who wants to work out “how to turn $300,000 into several millions” – but his love life.

Peter Fonda and Salli Sachse relaxing behind the scenes of The Trip. The relationship between their characters reflects the “real-life” drama Lucas reveals to us.

Reading through Lucas’ books, I have been struck by his consistent focus on the relationships between his main characters and the women in their lives. His stories cover a wide spectrum of how men interact with “the fairer sex”, including seeking a partner with mutual erotic interests (Throat Sprockets); experiencing the pain of unrequited love and the danger of seduction (The Book of Renfield); and discovering the duality between spouses and muses (The Secret Life of Love Songs). Here, Roger is depicted as a 40-year-old serial monogamist; although courteous and deeply attracted to women (“The Earth is a woman… and I am HUMPING HER!” he screams during his trip), he has trouble allowing them to embrace his multifaceted makeup. Despite having three different girlfriends over the course of the story, Roger’s behaviour is carefully portrayed by Lucas as not creepy or predatory, but indicative of someone who ends relationships as soon as it is clear they are not long-term.

Mr. and Mrs. Corman (pictured in 2010) – a co-production five decades in the making.

Paralleling Paul’s conflicted feelings for Glenn in The Trip, Roger is unsure about the deepness of his friendship with Julie Halloran, a researcher who shares his passion for problem-solving. He deliberately falls out of contact with her while preparing for the movie, fearing that she would not approve of his own “research”. The manner in which Lucas resolves this will-they-won’t-they dynamic not only does justice to the climax of The Trip, but the union they would eventually share together.

Lucas delivers two symbolic masterstrokes during Roger’s trip, which serve to convey his attitude to life: the constant, heightened ticking of his watch, and a “journey” into a giant rabbit-hole covered by screens showcasing every movie that has been, and will be, made. Unlike Paul, who is subconsciously ashamed of the commercialism of his chosen profession, Roger (in both the story and real life) has always embraced the artistic and commercial aspects of filmmaking. His determination to take advantage of what time he has left (in typically punctual fashion for Roger, his trip ends ahead of schedule!) has led him to not only push boundaries in his own movies, but also foster promising talents who might not have otherwise gotten the big break they needed. Indeed, numerous graduates of Roger’s informal “film school” would go on to become Oscar winners, including Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme and James Cameron.

“Art + business”: Corman seals a deal with Ron Howard for the latter’s directorial debut, Grand Theft Auto (1977).

And the ending? Well, although you can already find out about it online (Dante has already shot part of it as a form of “insurance”, and Ozploitation legend Brian Trenchard-Smith has told me that he was involved as a stand-in), I encourage you to discover its power – it’s a provocative capper that’ll leave you with those burning questions I asked at the start of this deep dive. Without giving too much away, it also neatly harkens back to both the ending of The Book of Renfield, and a phrase Roger may (or may not?) have uttered towards the end of his trip. This line, in turn, is a reference to a phrase claimed by Stephen King to have been uttered by Ray Milland’s character in an unedited version of the ending to X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

A fun, hauntingly beautiful tribute to one of the great craftsmen of the film industry and the power of his work, The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes earns my highest recommendation. I only hope it’s a matter of time before the rest of the movie version is made…

Oh, no! The author of this article accidentally dropped acid before taking this selfie… now he thinks there’s a bunch of go-go girls dancing to the tune of “Tomorrow Never Knows” within the camera lens!

The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes is available from PS Publishing at https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-man-with-kaleidoscope-eyes-hardcover-by-tim-lucas-5700-p.asp (print) and https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-man-with-kaleidoscope-eyes-ebook-by-tim-lucas-5829-p.asp (eBook). Signed copies of the book are available from Video Watchdog at https://videowatchdog.com/home/HTM/mwke.htm.

The Trip can be rented on Apple TV+ and is available on Blu-ray from UK distributor Signal One Entertainment at https://www.signal1entertainment.com/products/the-trip-blu-ray.

Watch the trailer for The Trip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWX_-rO-1nU

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Film Reviews

Is Nope Jordan Peele’s Best film? (Non-Spoiler Review)

After two box office hits, Jordan Peele is finally back. He is one of the few directors in Hollywood whose name brings a certain level of respect. Like Robert Eggers or Ari Aster, you are already going to see his film before you know what it’s about. Nevertheless, there are two things you expect from a Peele film – 1. A tense and gripping horror and 2. A strong and clever social commentary. With so few films under his belt, it is truly an accomplishment he has already achieved this reputation. But does Nope follow this path? Does it live up to the hype of two previous smash hits?

From the beginning to the end of this film, I was hooked. There was never a dull moment. In a 2hr and 15-minute run time this is an incredible accomplishment and a perfect representation of how good a writer and director Jordan Peele is. Butnot everything worked. Nope has some parts I absolutely loved and moments that just didn’t work for me.

Predictable

I was never shocked with this film. Sure, there was some slight twists, but nothing really surprised me. I think this is a real shame considering how many incredible and clever twists there were in Get Out and Us. Maybe it’s due to trailers showing way too much (I avoided them as much as I could) but I knew where the story was going before I even saw it.

As a result, this affected the ending of the film for me. Obviously, I won’t spoil it but it just wasn’t satisfying. I didn’t feel the entire story was completed and it just left me wanting another twist in the plot or to see more from these characters.

Horror

Jordan Peele is a master at creating tense horror sequences. In every movie he has made, he has a couple of scenes that make you want to look as far away as possible. Nope is no different. It’s so refreshing to have the UFO as this horrible force of nature because as an audience, we are so used to looking down or around us. Instead, Peele introduces this concept of being afraid of what’s coming from above that hasn’t really been touched upon since the 80s.

There are also some other sequences that I honestly found even scarier (no spoilers). They feel so seamless and blend into the story perfectly. Unlike most horrors, it never feels like Peele went “hey we need another horror scene here.” Also, how Jordan and his cinematographer – Hoyte van Hoytema – move the camera is beautiful. They know exactly what to do to make sure you are permanently “shitting it.”

The Comedy

At no point in this movie did I laugh out loud. That wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t feel like Peele had written in some purposeful jokes. These actors are all completely capable of being funny it’s just the movie doesn’t really commit to these comedic scenes very well. Sure, they might be worthy of a slight chuckle but when it’s Jordan Peele writing – one of the funniest comedians in Hollywood- you want to see some lines that make you laugh out loud.

Acting

Daniel Kaluuya was excellent in this film. I really believed this character and all the choices he made completely fit his backstory. How Daniel mumbles and is so socially awkward he can’t even talk to others perfectly fits a man who has known farming and nothing more. For Keke Palmer, I really had to settle into her performance, but once I did, I loved it. I like how she starts off as this over top character and as the film moves forward, she becomes more grounded and realistic. Now Steven Yeun I also liked, I just don’t think he was given as much screen time as the others. But when he was on screen, he completely solid this capitalistic money-grubbing man. Apart from Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott (both were solid but didn’t stand out) that is basically the whole cast.

Sound design

I don’t ever really talk about sound design because most movies are samey but holy fuck the sound in Nope is incredible. Johnnie Burn does an amazing job at making you understand exactly when the UFO is about to arrive. In an interview, he mentions how the barrel in Jaws shows you when the shark is coming. For Nope, they used wind whistling to represent the alien. Simple choices like this add a whole new level of suspense. It completely immerses you in the situation and makes you that much more terrified.

Minor Spoilers

Something new

Ultimately, Nope doesn’t seek to offers answers but instead make you ask questions. Like Kubrick’s style of filmmaking, Peele wants you to question the world around you. Whether this be the themes of the entertainment industry, animal abuse or capitalism, I think Jordan has a specific goal of making the audience challenge their views. While these messages are buried deep deep below the surface, I love that he is not beating the audiences’ head about what the film is truly about. It’s subtle and it’s smart. On top of this, he brings a completely new structure to this film that worked. It was a simple signposting, but it kept me engaged and focused.

Should you see this movie?

Nope is a great movie with tense horror and well written heartfelt moments that kept me hooked from the beginning. While specific elements didn’t work for me – like the comedy and predictability of the plot – it is still worthy of your time. You must see it in cinemas for its incredible sound design and beautiful cinematography. Definitely go see this film.

(It’s not his best movie…)

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7 tips I learned from an Oscar Winning screenwriter.